The curse of the Hustle Belt #1 ranking came again last week, as Ohio dropped a game at Western Michigan after being ranked in the top spot before the game. The same thing happened at the beginning of conference play when I ranked Ohio #1 and they promptly lost to Akron at home. What's great about that is the Bobcats have the chance to play spoiler this week as they travel to Toledo to try to knock off the suddenly vulnerable Rockets on Wednesday night.
To the rankings!
1. Toledo Rockets (20-3, 8-2), LW: 2
Last week: Bowling Green (W), at Ball State (W)
This week: Ohio (2/12), at Eastern Michigan (2/15)
The Rockets did what they were supposed to do this week in picking up two wins, but those wins weren't the easiest. Bowling Green took the Rockets right down to the wire before Toledo put it away in the last few minutes. Ball State gave Toledo fits as well as the Cardinals went on a 17-0 run in the first half to get back into the game after a terrible start. Toledo ended up with the victory, but it was a lot closer than it should have been.
Things get a lot tougher this week as Ohio comes to Savage Arena on Wednesday. The Rockets are looking to avenge their loss to Ohio a couple weeks ago but the Bobcats are surging, winning four of their last five. Making this one even more difficult is the suspension of Justin Drummond, who will miss the game after picking up a DUI on Saturday night. The game at Eastern Michigan is never easy either. The Rockets can't afford to sleepwalk through any of these games as they may risk the opportunity to lock down the number one seed.
2. Ohio Bobcats (17-6, 7-3), LW: 1
Last week: at Western Michigan (L), Miami (W)
This week: at Toledo (2/12), at Buffalo (2/15)
The Comeback 'Cats continue to be one of the most intriguing teams in the conference this year. They're a good team no doubt, but you can take their last four wins in one of two ways. On one side you can call the Bobcats "resilient" because of how they can get back into games they are down big in and eventually pull them out in the end. On the other hand, how do they get themselves down so much in the first place? It's not like they are playing the best teams in the conference either. The comebacks have came against Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and now Miami. When Ohio starts playing better teams, will they continue to be able to pull off the comeback? That didn't happen against Western Michigan.
It may be the most important week of the season so far for the Bobcats as they travel to two of the best teams in the conference. These next few games will define Ohio's season: they can either knock off the big boys en route to the conference title, or they can split these games and find themselves fighting for a first round bye. If you wanted a "team to watch" this week, it's the Bobcats.
3. Akron Zips (16-7, 8-2), LW: 3
Last week: Eastern Michigan (W), at Bowling Green (W)
This week: at Western Michigan (2/12), Northern Illinois (2/15)
The Zips needed to make a big comeback themselves after being down twelve with ten minutes to play at home against Eastern Michigan. Against Bowling Green, the Zips needed a Quincy Diggs buzzer-beater to pick up the victory. Akron dominated through most of the game but let up in the last couple minutes with turnovers becoming a problem once again. The Zips face a tough test at Western Michigan even though the Broncos haven't beaten Akron since February 6, 2008. The Northern Illinois game should be an easy one, but the Huskies are starting to play a lot better.
4. Buffalo Bulls (13-7, 7-3), LW: 4
Last week: Ball State (W), at Central Michigan (W)
This week: at Miami (2/12), Ohio (2/15)
The Bulls took care of business this week against lesser competition and seem to be hitting their stride coming into the most important part of the season. Buffalo avenged their surprising loss to Ball State earlier in the year and dominated Central Michigan. Javon McCrea is putting up phenomenal numbers in the past few games, averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds in the last week alone. The Bulls will need him this week with two tough games on the schedule.
5. Western Michigan Broncos (14-8, 7-3), LW: 5
Last week: Ohio (W), at Northern Illinois (W)
This week: Akron (2/12), Miami (2/15)
No one is talking about them, but here sits the Broncos at 7-3 and just a game behind the Rockets in the West Division standings. They put up 90 points against Ohio, a normally good defensive team. The final score of the game at Northern Illinois was a lot closer than the actual game played out, as the Huskies were down by ten points or more until the last five minutes of the game when they started to come back. This week presents a physical test for the Broncos in Akron and another contest with pesky Miami.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (13-10, 5-5), LW: 7
Last week: at Akron (L), Kent State (W)
This week: at Ball State (2/12), Toledo (2/15)
Well, it was another game and another lost big lead for the Eagles as they gave up a ten point lead with ten minutes left in the game to ultimately lose by four at Akron. Eastern Michigan is good enough to be dangerous but just does not know how to close out games. They're getting a mindset that no lead of theirs is safe and that's a problem. It almost happened again against Kent State, where they had a twenty point lead with nine minutes left but allowed the Flashes to cut the lead to seven in just four minutes of play. The Eagles pulled it out though, and that win was the first over Kent State in the last seventeen games played between the two teams.
7. Northern Illinois Huskies (10-12, 4-6), LW: 10
Last week: Miami (W), Western Michigan (L)
This week: Central Michigan (2/12), at Akron (2/15)
Speaking of comebacks, the Huskies had one of their own last week against Miami. Down 37-28 with fourteen minutes to play, Northern Illinois went on a 15-0 run in just four minutes to take the lead. The final score was 53-41, which showcased the Huskies' stellar defensive play in only giving up four points over the last fourteen minutes of the game. Against Western Michigan they crept back in it near the end, but could never get over the hump. You get the feeling that the Huskies will compete in every game they play, no matter the talent disparity. That's great news for the Huskies going forward.
8. Miami RedHawks (9-12, 5-5), LW: 6
Last week: at Northern Illinois (L), at Ohio (L)
This week: Buffalo (2/12), at Western Michigan (2/15)
Well, that sixth place standing in the overall conference standings didn't last long. Miami gave up nine and sixteen point leads to Northern Illinois and Ohio, respectively last week. It's only going to get tougher for the RedHawks as they still have games against Buffalo (twice), Western Michigan, Akron and Ohio left.
9. Bowling Green Falcons (10-13, 4-6), LW: 9
Last week: at Toledo (L), Akron (L)
This week: at Kent State (2/12), at Ball State (2/15)
Bowling Green kept it close against Toledo before letting go late. Against Akron the Falcons tied the game up on a banked in three pointer with seven seconds to go before Quincy Diggs nailed a jumper to seal the win. The Falcons get two of the worst teams in the conference this week, but they're on the road. This may be a make or break week for Bowling Green.
10. Kent State Golden Flashes (12-11, 3-7), LW: 8
Last week: at Central Michigan (L), at Eastern Michigan (L)
This week: Bowling Green (2/12), Central Michigan (2/15)
Welcome to the season of hell, Kent State. After a promising non-conference season and a win over Akron, it would seem the Flashes would be in contention for the MAC title. Unfortunately that's not the case anymore, and the twenty-win season streak is seriously in jeopardy. It's not that this team is devoid of talent; Kris Brewer and Darren Goodson are two of the top players in the conference. They just can't put it together consistently to win games. At least they get two home games against middling competition to (maybe) pump up their record.
11. Ball State Cardinals (4-17, 1-9), LW: 11
Last week: at Buffalo (L), Toledo (L)
This week: Eastern Michigan (2/12), Bowling Green (2/15)
The nightmare season continues for the Cardinals as they drop two more games. This is another team that has talent but just can't put it together.
12. Central Michigan Chippewas (8-14, 1-9), LW: 12
Last week: Kent State (W), Buffalo (L)
This week: at Northern Illinois (2/12), at Kent State (2/15)
Hey the Chips got a win!